Health and wellbeing in horticulture

Consumers are more interested than ever in their health and wellbeing, including living in a healthy environment. Indoor plants and outdoor gardens have distinct and proven health benefits and through the across industry funded HAL project, Health and wellbeing in horticulture, the nursery industry will have access to a wealth of information, about the benefit of green-life, to use in marketing and communication activities.

The CSIRO has been engaged through the project to undertake a world-wide literature review focused on health and wellbeing. This will encompass journal articles on all horticultural products, edible and non-edible.

The project will also provide a watchdog service to industry with regard to policy and legislation announcements. It will be jointly led by accredited practicing dietitian, Karen Kingham, and communications consultant Chris Rowley.

“The project will gather together articles published on ornamental horticulture, fruit, vegetables and nuts, to demonstrate just how good for your health and wellbeing horticultural products are,” Chris Rowley says.

“It will also stay abreast of policy and regulatory issues and inform the relevant industry as things come up. The idea here is to provide industry with the information it needs to make decisions and act in the area of policy and regulation.”

Research

Information gathered by the CSIRO will be assessed by the wellbeing team and circulated to HAL member industries via a newsletter and for more urgent items specific to the nursery industry, via an email alert.

Materials will also be made available via a monthly bulletin that will seek to tie together the whole of industry approach and build a wider understanding of research that may extend across a number of industries.

A searchable database will be established to further extend the use of the information and provide the longer term capability for industry to request specific search information relevant to marketing or other activities.

A separate part of the research approach will be the establishment of a process that collects information on trends relevant to HAL members. This could include lifestyle trends that impact on non-edible horticultural products or food and eating trends.

“What we now have is a starting point of close to 400 items in the searchable database, stretching back over the past few months of 2009, and even a few older items of interest,” Mr Rowley said.

“Given the timeframe for this initial batch of references there will most likely be articles that the nursery industry may already be aware of, however as we roll out this process we expect an increasing number of new items of interest to appear on a month to month basis.”

In the realm of non-edible horticulture, research shows differences in sick leave and productivity among office workers who were in close proximity to indoor plants and less need for pain medication, lower blood pressure and a more positive outlook amongst hospital patients who had flowering or foliage plants in their rooms.

New research from February 2010 favours the amenity industries with several interesting articles on horticultural therapy, a therapy defined as the process of using plants and garden related activities to promote well-being. Horticultural therapy is utilised in hospitals, rehabilitation centres, disability services and aged care facilities around the world and its practice in Australia is growing. The first article overviews the development of horticultural therapy in Australia and the challenges faced in promoting its use while the second details its use in a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in Melbourne.

Generic fruit and vegetable research features most prominently as the scientific community attempts to tease out relationships between diets rich in fruit and veg and diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and weight control.

Nuts as a group also featured prominently in the first review round. Reviewing epidemiological evidence for nuts and health, the CSIRO researchers commented on the consistency of associations between nuts and reduced risk of heart disease, the benefits of long-term nut consumption and frequency of intake and protection from gallbladder disease.

All of the research gathered by the CSIRO will be maintained in a central searchable database which can be accessed by contacting the project team.

Policy and Regulatory Affairs

The other key area of activity within the wellbeing project is that of policy and regulatory affairs. The project will develop a list of all current and ongoing reviews of interest to horticultural industries to ensure regular monitoring of regulatory bodies. As policy or regulatory issues arise, the relevant industry or industries will be contacted by the wellbeing team and provided with the information needed to make decisions and act.

As an example of the way this service will work, in late January the wellbeing team became aware of a proposal from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to consider varying the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code to include traceability and processing requirements for semi-dried tomatoes, tomatoes and other food likely to be used in semi-dried tomatoes. To facilitate its consideration of the proposal the tomato industry was alerted to the fact that FSANZ was seeking public comment.

This across industry project is funded by HAL using levies and voluntary contributions from industry with matched funds from the Federal Government.